Written by Anna Jean Kos via www.salient.org.nz
Awareness of the environmental and humanitarian horrors occurring within the fashion industry has grown hugely over the past decade. We continue to learn of the industry's astronomical water usage, water pollution, microplastics, carbon emissions, air pollution, labour exploitation, and unsafe working conditions; the list goes on. We are faced with extreme green-washing and 'effective' marketing, creating an industry that continues to churn out waste while calling it eco-friendly. However, we're also seeing the rise of some incredible innovation and change. Hope for the fashion industry lies in these new technologies and textiles, as well increasing demand for a circular. closed-loop system.
A closed-loop system of fashion sees products designed and manufactured to circulate as long as possible, minimising waste and environmental impact. Producers need to consider what the end-life of their product looks like, and provide efficient ways to repurpose products post-consumption of the consumer. This starts with working with the right materials, and there has been a growth in using natural textiles that come from nature and are biodegradable, such as linen and hemp. Better yet, we've seen a rise in the fashion industry repurposing existing waste in order to create a more sustainable future of fashion.
Each year, innovative textiles and processes are becoming more common and more commercially viable. For example, we've seen the steady rise of ECONYL, nylon made from recycled land and ocean waste, such as fishing nets or old carpets. ECONYL fabrics post-consumption can also be recycled, re-dyed, and used over and over again without loss of quality. Through this process, they're able to reduce the global warming impact of nylon by up to 90%, compared to the material produced from oil.
In addition, For Davs, a dedicated zero-waste company, has started a scheme where you're able to return your old tees once you're done with them, no matter what condition they're in. These t-shirts are broken down and up-cycled into a new item of clothing.
These are just a couple of examples of the many ways both small and large-scale manufacturers are using innovation to positively shape the relationship between the fashion industry and its environmental footprint. Companies like For Days are setting realistic standards, and it would be incredible to see more access to schemes like this in New Zealand. An increasing number of New Zealanders are looking to shop small, local, or second hand. It's important to look for brands that have a conscience, and who are open to doing things differently.
Mindful Fashion NZ is a collective made up of members of New Zealand's fashion industry who are working to create a clothing and textile industry in New Zealand that is inclusive, sustainable, and successful. Some of the members are brands you might recognise such as Nisa, Paris Georgia, and Yu Mei. At their recent Annual General Meeting, there was a lot of discussion around setting meaningful and measurable goals for sustainability, as well as coming together as an industry to have more of an impact. Mindful Fashion NZ is encouraging circular business models, and pushing for resources that would allow local manufacturing. This would hopefully result in future supply chains where clothing is designed, processed, made, and then later recycled or repurposed into the system, all within New Zealand.
So despite being overrun by green-washing, fast fashion empires, and disconnected corporations, the fashion industry also contains some of the most innovative and eco-conscious creatives around the globe, including here in New Zealand.
The challenge lies in making sustainable choices accessible. There is a desperate need for the good to outweigh the bad, and while we're not there yet, our industry needs to continue fostering innovation, education, and stricter rules on how we participate as businesses and consumers in fashion. In order to become truly sustainable there needs to be more transparency, and an industry-wide requirement for brands to be held responsible for pre and post-consumption waste.